Opinion

EDITORIAL : America, the Mental Patient

In their text Abnormal Psychology, authors Richard Halgin and Susan Krauss Whitbourne characterize people with Paranoid Personality Disorder as showing “pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others whose motives they interpret as malevolent.” Reflecting upon this statement and the recent state of international affairs, one wonders, does America suffer from Paranoid Personality Disorder?
Foremost for the paranoid patient is an “unjustified suspicion that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving them.” Yes, the United States was assaulted by a terrorist organization in September of 2001. However, just as the rape victim may remain overly sensitive and unhealthily suspicious for too long after an attack, is America holding on too much to such an isolated incident in national history?
France and Germany receive the brunt of the next symptom: “preoccupation with unjustified doubts about others’ loyalty or trustworthiness.” The two European nations have been American allies for many years and at the first sign of dissent, Americans are willing to decry the French and Germans as treacherous as a common terrorist is. Some speak of severing all diplomatic ties with such “disloyal” nations.
If a solid link were proven between Iraq and the Al Qaeda network, then even the most vocal dissenters would have difficulty opposing action. But alas, our own government is to blame for the next warning sign: “reluctance to confide in others, for fear that the information will be used against them.” Intelligence officials refuse to provide hard evidence of a link or of the existence of WMD in Iraqi territory. Instead, the public is privy to vague speculations about criminal links and immoral activities.
How about a “tendency to bear grudges”? Well, how long has the U.S. been waiting to oust Saddam Hussein? Or a “perception of personal attacks that are not apparent to others, and tendency to respond with angry attacks”? Most of the Arab world characterizes the American armed forces as the “aggressor” in this conflict, in their “invasion” of Iraq. Iraqi threats to security are not perceived by some of the world.
Whether or not you’re convinced of the diagnosis, we’ll continue with the treatment. “Direct confrontation with the paranoid client usually backfires, because the client is likely to construe this as yet another attack.” Here, again, the French and Germans play a vital role. Upon the presentation of counterarguments to the U.S. position, Congress passed legislation to ban “French fries” and “French toast” from the Capitol lunchrooms-and replaced them with “Freedom fries” and “Freedom toast.” There’s another grudge forming.
The nature of terrorism makes it hard to eradicate militarily, as it is based on distrust and disinformation-as England found out at the cost of a lot of lives and money that the best way to deal with the IRA was to talk to them and win over their minds and hearts than to try to kill them all.
A theoretical therapist would try to convince America, the mental patient, “to handle situations without resorting to a defensive and vigilant stance,” and to talk out its problems with the individual or group it holds a grudge against. Maybe he would also advise America to revise the semi-paranoid color-coded warning system for homeland security, or to establish a sense of trust with antagonistic forces. Does America hold a sense of trust with the Arab world?

April 4, 2003

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